Failure to Address Each Ground of Dismissal on Appeals – Dismissal Affirmed

Where plaintiff alleged negligence per se and invasion of privacy based on the unauthorized access and disclosure of her medical records, but she failed to allege in her complaint that the disclosure was made by an employee or agent of defendant or “otherwise explain how [defendant] could be liable for the actions” of another legal entity, and she failed to address an independent ground for dismissal in her appeal, dismissal was affirmed.

In Prewitt v. Saint Thomas Health, No. M2020-00858-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 14, 2021), plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against defendant Saint Thomas Health asserting claims for negligence per se and invasion of privacy. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that she was treated and gave birth at a hospital owned and operated by defendant, and that the father of the child subsequently obtained information about the child’s birth from the hospital. Specifically, the complaint read: “[T]he plaintiff received documents that included the date of her Cesarean section that took place at Defendant Saint Thomas’ hospital. The information had apparently been disseminated and obtained by a violent and abusive man.”

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on two grounds, the statute of limitations and “failure to plead facts to state a claim as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 8.01.” The trial court granted dismissal on both grounds, and because plaintiff failed to address the Rule 8.01 argument in her appeal, dismissal was affirmed.

Rule 8.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure requires a plaintiff to “plead with particularity how she is entitled to relief” against the defendant, and the trial court here ruled that plaintiff failed to “identify any individual or action connected to defendant Saint Thomas Health.” The trial court had taken judicial notice of the fact that defendant and Midtown Hospital were separate and distinct legal entities, and none of plaintiff’s allegations identified how defendant would be responsible for the supposed disclosure of information by Midtown Hospital. The Court of Appeals explained that the trial court’s ruling that dismissal was appropriate under Rule 8.01 was “an independent basis for dismissal,” and because plaintiff only addressed the statute of limitations argument in her appellate brief, she “waived her right to appeal” this ruling. Dismissal was therefore affirmed.

The short opinion in this pro se case reminds us of two important points. First, be careful of who you name as a defendant, especially when dealing with corporate entities that might own or be affiliated with other entities. Second, when appealing a dismissal be sure to address each ground on which the trial court ruled.

NOTE: This opinion was released three months after oral arguments in this case.

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